Photo via Frank Gunn / AP
1. Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant’s injury, while unfortunate, was a good thing for the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, and Steph Curry in particular, were playing without swagger and confidence.
The main difference between the Warriors last year and this year was Curry’s play. He went from an MVP to just a great player because he was trying to integrate Durant. Once Durant went down, the Warriors rediscovered the magic that made them one of the best teams in NBA history; they won 14 straight games and 15 out of their last 16 to finish the season.
They are the most talented team in the league, and they’re hot going into the playoffs.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
After losing their final four games, the Cleveland Cavaliers should probably be lower in the power rankings. This is a power ranking for the playoffs, though, not the regular season. The playoffs are their own season, and you can throw records out the window. At this point in the season, we can focus on experience, talent, matchups, and chemistry.
The Cavs save themselves for the playoffs. Once the ball tips, Cleveland will have something pretty close to their A-game. Their poor play is worrisome in terms of winning a championship, but it doesn’t foretell an early exit.
They are, however, making their third straight title run (LeBron James’ seventh in a row). It might catch up to them, but I think resting their stars down the stretch will benefit the Cavs playoff run.
They’ll make the conference finals, and most likely, the NBA Finals.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Yes, the San Antonio Spurs are a great team with a ton of depth, but they don’t have Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are not what they once were. It is Leonard’s team and he is performing at an elite level.
They don’t have the star power that the Warriors and Cavs do, but their experience, Kawhi Leonard, and Popovich make them a serious threat.
4. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not considered “real” title contenders. They have everything that one would look for in a team, but lack the star-studded lineup needed to compete for a title.
Boston will be a great team in the future. They have a nice roster and a great coach in Brad Stevens, but they need one more piece to be a real threat to LeBron in the east.
Maybe they should be ranked higher because of their record during the regular season. They have a chance to upset Cleveland should the matchup present itself.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors may not be playing their best basketball, but they have the potential to take the Cavaliers deep in a series. The injury to guard Kyle Lowry hurt their regular season record. Once Lowry returned to the lineup, they started winning games. They won 12 out of their last 14 games to finish the season.
They took a surprising loss to Milwaukee in game one, but people overreacted. They’ll bounce back and win game two, and they’ll steal a game on the road against the Bucks.
If they can get there, the Raptors have the star power to compete with Cleveland. At guard, Lowry can matchup with Kyrie Irving. DeRozan is a stud, and DeMarre Carrol can matchup with LeBron James. They have great size, too, with Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka.
A great point guard, an all-star scoring guard, and two seven-footers underneath. The Raptors have a chance to go deep in the playoffs.
6. Houston Rockets
They should probably be number three or four in these rankings, but the Rockets are in the Western Conference and don’t stand much of a chance against the top seeds. They have a shot at beating the Spurs, but they can’t beat Golden State.
They’re a good team, but they can’t play defense, and they don’t match up well against their conference’s top teams. No one should expect them to be the western conference’s representative in the NBA finals.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are similar to the Rockets. They’re a good team, they’d be great in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not good enough to beat the Spurs or Warriors.
It’s disappointing for Chris Paul, who’s a great player, but has been pretty unlucky. He’s never been surrounded with enough talent to win, and he’s had to play against the Lakers, Spurs, and Warriors’ dynasties.
The Clippers do have a lot of talent, with Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, but they lack in two key areas. They don’t have an elite wing like LeBron, Kobe, Thompson or Leonard, and Griffin seems like a great regular season player, but doesn’t help the team win.
When Chris Paul gets injured, the Clippers really suffer. When Griffin is out with an injury, the Clippers do just fine.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, but the Clippers probably won’t go far.
8. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards have a lot of potential to make noise in the playoffs with John Wall and Bradley Beal. They also have good supporting players in Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat. They’re a good team, but they’re a star away from being true title contenders.
If they could have landed Durant, for example, they’d be as good as Cleveland. Wall is very good, but he’s not elite. His jump-shot, which is lacking, will hurt him down the stretch of games.
9. Atlanta Hawks
They’re pretty much the same team ever year; good in the regular season, but don’t have a legitimate shot at a championship. They’re stuck in limbo. The Hawks are never bad enough to get a high draft pick, but they’re never good enough to win it all.
They’ve got a shot to win a series, but anything beyond that would be a surprise.
10. Portland Trailblazers
The Trailblazers are fun to watch and they’ll put up a good effort against the Warriors, albeit exiting in the first round.
They have a good core with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who could be elite in the future. They need to bring in another all-star, though. If not, the two will surely leave Portland to team up with other stars.
Despite their long-term contracts, players have shown the ability to force trades if they are unhappy. It is the trend in the NBA for a star player to leave their team if no help comes.
Yes, there are other teams in the playoffs, but they won’t be winning an NBA championship this year. If you have no chance (and I mean zero) at beating Golden State or Cleveland, you’re not on the list. Sorry to the:
Oklahoma City Thunder
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.